Wednesday, June 19
With the temperatures in the late 60s, downtown Carlisle has a distinctly European feel; coffee-drinkers sitting outside in the sun, pasty white flesh on display, and barely-contained optimism that summer is finally here.
However I spend the morning in the oily waiting room of Denton Tyres, waiting for four new tyres to be fitted to J’s car. It transpires that yesterday she drove to Teesside and back with a flat, and now it seems the other three are dangerously bald.
Baldness, namely mine, is also the subject of conversation at the hair salon where I celebrate the heatwave with a no-nonsense No.3. The hairdresser confirms what I have suspected for some time: that I am going thin on top. My lame rejoinder – “Who wants fat hair?” – falls on deaf ears.
The girl cheers me up by telling me about a customer who spent £7k on a hair transplant in order to disguise a bald patch, and now all that remains on his head is the transplanted tuft. Gamely, he still comes in once a month to get it trimmed.
In Waterstones I purchase a paperback copy of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, on the back of rave reviews for the prequel Stalingrad, which is out in hardback. Both novels were suppressed by the Soviets and, since their rediscovery, have been compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Spend 10 minutes discussing banned 20th century literature with the well-informed girl behind the counter, and leave with a spring in my step and an 875-page brick clutched to my breast.
Rory Stewart has been knocked out of the Tory leadership race. Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Graeme Logan remain. Attempt to dispel the ennui by blitzing three more episodes of Gomorrah. Don Pietro has now been transferred to a maximum security prison and his feckless son Gennaro increasingly resembles Christopher Biggins’ Nero in I, Claudius.
Thursday, June 20
High drama in the village, where two cars have collided on a sharp bend at the bottom of the hill. No serious injuries, but coming so soon after the council applied top-dressing to the main road how much more excitement can we take?
Indeed what with this and the latest twists in the battle for the Tory leadership, there is a sense that the world is spinning off its axis.
For insight on the latter I turn to Andrew Neil, whose interviewing technique on The Daily Politics consists of asking a question and then answering it himself, as if he is already bored of what the politician is about to say. Eventually he concentrates his efforts on taking the piss out of Chuka “three parties in three months” Umunna. Meanwhile Ann Widdecombe sits, gargoyle-like, and croaks opprobrium while we await the results from Westminster.
No surprise that Javid is the first to drop out, but there is an audible gasp as Logan is subsequently pipped by Hunt for the right to take on the seemingly unassailable Bojo. Only four weeks to go before we know the identity of our new PM.
A 16-miler on the bike to calm the nerves, but anxiety returns as we await George Clooney’s reimagining of Catch-22 on Channel 4. Will it be as good as the hype suggests? Can anything?
An off-puttingly hyperactive first act, largely due to Clooney himself, but after that it settles down. The overall tone remains rather arch, however – and in this respect it mirrors the original Joseph Heller novel, which I found generally insufferable. I shall stick with it, though, for the special effects if nothing else.
Friday, June 21
Walking up English Street to the Apple shop, I am reminded of the scene in Airplane in which Capt Rex Kramer dispatches a succession of pushy devotees from various religious sects (The Moonies, Jews for Jesus, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc) with punches and karate kicks as he makes his way across the departures concourse.
How I wish Rex Kramer was with me as I run the gauntlet of sleek street salesmen and beaming, professional “chuggers” who operate along this 200-yard stretch of Carlisle city centre, ready to pounce on unsuspecting shoppers and call them “Buddy”.
Except we are not unsuspecting. We know they are there, and we know the cardinal rule of the street: do not make eye contact. In London, this is easy because everyone stares at the ground for fear of being stabbed. But up north we give people the time of day, because politeness is in our DNA. We would rather listen to the reasons why we should switch our electricity supplier or give money to dog charities than smash them in the face with a roundhouse kick.
Today is the longest day. Irrational, I know, but I always feel that it is downhill from here.